TREASURES OF THE LIBRARY PODCAST: Dr Martin Milner on D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s personal copy of On Growth and Form

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Monday 17 February 2014

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In the summer of 2013, the University Library set out to capture the reactions of academic and library staff when encountering their favourite items from the Special Collections Division. For this project, authors for articles for Treasures of St Andrews University Library (London, 2010) were asked to speak about the item or collection they highlighted in this publication.

In this first Treasures of the Library podcast, Dr Martin Milner talks about D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s personal proof copy of his seminal work, On Growth and Form (2nd edition, 1942) (St Andrews ms42363-ms42364). An extraordinary polymath, D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson held the chair of Natural History in St Andrews from 1917 until his death in 1948 at the age of 88. On Growth and Form, first published in 1917, propounded the then revolutionary theory that biological form can reflect physical and mathematical principles. Very unusually for a scientific text, the work is still in print almost a century later, and is available in translation in several languages.  This unique copy of the book is interleaved, and suffused with pasted-in notes, comments and diagrams – presumably D’Arcy’s own preparation for a subsequent edition.  D’Arcy’s legacy goes beyond his scientific work: a figure of almost mythological status in St Andrews, he is still remembered by many in the town and retains a pre-eminent position in the annals of the University.

Page 754 and an inserted page from D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s personal copy of On Growth and Form
Page 754 and an inserted page from D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s personal copy of On Growth and Form

The article written by Dr Milner about this item is to be found on pp. 100-101 of Treasures of St Andrews University Library (London, 2010). This short video is one of several which have been made based on the book. The entire set, which will be added to periodically, is available on the University of St Andrews Library YouTube channel.

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